The current resurgence of bedbugs in the United States has brought the little pests once again into the limelight after decades of obscurity. Our pioneer ancestors, however, were well acquainted with bedbugs, as revealed by contemporary diaries, books, and newspapers. The Omaha Daily Bee on February 23, 1891, included an unsigned poem that must have expressed the feeling of thousands of sufferers.
THE BEDBUG Twas on a sultry summer night, The moon was shining calm and bright, When from my couch I rose to fight The bedbug. I uttered many a sad lament, As on my murderous search intent, Into each hidden crack I went For bedbugs. My wretched limbs were smarting well, And O, my anguish who can tell, As oft I caught the sickening smell Of bedbugs. Their stinging bites, how well I know When, with a sure, death-dealing blow, I pounce upon my luckless foe, The bedbug. And ever, how my spirit grieves, As ‘mong the Bible’s sacred leaves I find those dirty, skulking thieves, The bedbugs. And oft I start, in dread affright, When on the parson’s collar white There scrambles out, in plainest sight, The bedbug. And through my head this query ran: How in the name of mercy can To church a decent, Christian man Bring bedbugs? And let them run and dodge about, Play ‘hide and seek,’ and in and out Upon the carcass of the lout, Unheeded. Should ‘auld Nick’s’ pitchfork need a prong, Wherewith to probe the tortured throng, He only needs to send along Some bedbugs.
Bedbugs were a scourge on the frontier because of primitive living conditions. Solomon D. Butcher’s 1888 photograph of the Hoffaker family of east Custer County, Nebraska, included what appears to be the frame for a rope bed that is being used to dry food. NSHS RG2608-1745